Written by Grace Ding
Published in the November 8, 2015 issue
Freshman physical education (P.E.) classes implemented the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) program on Oct. 26. The four-week unit focusing on stress management and mental health will also take place in sophomore P.E. classes in January after winter break. YES! instructors and P.E. teachers will guide students through a series of activities designed to help channel negative emotions and stress.
According to YES! City Director of San Francisco Bay Area Priya Mayureshwar, the program is split into three modules—healthy body, mind and lifestyle. “A third of our time will be spent on physical exercises such as yoga stretching and tag games,” Mayureshwar said. “Another third will be spent on teaching targeted breathing techniques, and the other third will be spent on social-emotional learning.”
In the spring of last school year, a Gunn parent affiliated with YES! approached the school administration about introducing the program. Soon after, Student Executive Council (SEC) members and some teachers attended a short training session, after which SEC voted unanimously to bring YES! into Gunn.
YES! began as a community initiative and has expanded over the last decade into national organization that works with and teaches students around the country. It aims to bring a positive impact to youth by focusing on self-empowerment. “The program has an emphasis on stress management, on basic human value and just helping students finds ways to have calm in their lives through the different breathing techniques that are taught,” P.E. teacher Amy Anderson said.
So far, students have mostly received the program with eagerness to learn. “The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Anderson said. “My students all came in with an open mind, smiling and laughing.”
Freshman Caroline Ro is in favor of the program and its goals. “I know that some of the athletes [on prep] don’t like that they have to go back to P.E.,” she said. “But [the class] is pretty relaxing, and you get to learn how to destress, which is relevant to a lot of us.”
YES! instructors are excited to work with classes because of the students’ interest in mindfulness. “Many students seem to understand the value of [the program] before we even came and we can see that from their end,” YES! bilingual instructor Martin Blank said.
Ultimately, YES! Executive Director Elan Gepner hopes that the program will help students overcome their own obstacles to grow at their full potential. “So many students are already so high-achieving and have so many dreams and aspirations,” he said. “Yet the hurdles that we often come up against are ourselves, when we’re overwhelmed, when our expectations are very high and when we’re pushing our limits. It’s a real joy to be able to help students who already have such a big vision about impacting the world to become more effective working individually and collectively.”